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Do You Hate The Way You Look?
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on May 06, 2008
In March of 2006, I received the following letter from someone who consulted with me for a skin condition:
Dear Dr. Kim,
I wondered if you would have any advice because I'm having a very hard time emotionally. I'm having a problem with low self esteem and self confidence, mainly because of my (health condition).
I don't have any friends or acquaintances (in my local area), and I've had a huge problem with loneliness over the past year.
I feel too embarrassed to meet other young people because of the (health condition), and I feel my emotional state has taken a large toll on me. It seems like a catch 22 situation.
I would appreciate any thoughts or suggestions you have on this.
Because I have received letters like Jessica's over the years from people of both genders, all ages, and a variety of ethnic backgrounds, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the thoughts that I included in my reply to Jessica.
If you've been reading our site for a while, you may know that I came to do the work that I do now because of my own health challenges as a 19-year old.
Due to a variety of stressors that I faced at that time, I developed a skin condition called vitiligo. Over a period of 3-4 years, I lost approximately 25 percent of my skin color in patches on my face and body.
This condition affected every part of my life. I thought that no one would hire me as a chiropractor because of the way that I looked. I was depressed because I couldn't play tennis, baseball, and basketball for hours at a time like I used to without getting sun burned. I was sure that no one would ever want to marry me.
For about two years, I couldn't even look at myself in the mirror. I showered, brushed my teeth, and washed my face in the bathroom with the lights off. Such was the extent to which I had come to loathe my scars.
I'd like to tell you that there was one magical moment when it all turned around for me. The truth is that it took many years to overcome my low self esteem and addiction to self pity.
There were a number of thoughts and events that encouraged me to see my physical appearance differently.
At one point, I realized that the person who made the most of my physical appearance was me. When I made it a big issue in my own mind, it seemed to become more of an issue to those around me. When I went about my life without obsessing over my appearance, it clearly became less of an issue to people I interacted with.
Sure, there were a few people here and there who clearly indicated that they didn't want anything to do with me because of my unique physical appearance, but for the most part, almost everyone I met and interacted with didn't even bring it up. Some even made me feel like they didn't notice it at all.
Another important epiphany occurred when a friend asked me to consider how I would want my own future child to go about his or her life if they faced the same circumstances that I faced. In recognizing that I would not want low self esteem over physical appearance to hinder my own child's life in any way, I was inspired to begin the practice of living my own life in a way that resembled how I wished my own child's life would turn out.
It took me until I was about the age of 26 or 27 to feel relatively free of the self pity that I allowed to plague me since I developed vitiligo.
And since that time, I've come to realize repeatedly that my experiences with vitiligo and low self esteem over my physical appearance are among the greatest gifts that I have ever received.
Because of my experiences, I can truly relate to clients who have a health challenge that involves anxiety about their physical appearance. If I didn't have the experience of not being able to turn the lights on in the bathroom, I believe that I would have less capacity to understand and help some of these people. To focus solely on dietary choices when a person can't even look into a mirror without a visceral reaction is not likely to lead to a positive, long term outcome.
My vitiligo also gives me the ability to quickly identify people who place more importance on a person's character than on a person's looks. When my wife knew that she wanted to marry me when she was 25-years old, I knew that I had found someone who recognized my spirit. I didn't need a handsome face, fancy clothes, a stuffed wallet, a flashy sports car, or a 5,000 square foot home to have her want to marry me.
Without my vitiligo, I doubt that I would have gotten interested in leading the healthy lifestyle that my family does now.
I could share many more blessings that have come about because of the skin condition that caused years of sadness, but hopefully, my point is clear.
If you suffer with anxiety about your physical appearance, I hope that you will take some time to consider the many ways in which your current and past suffering can lead to a bright and meaningful life. As Shakespeare wrote, "...there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
It's difficult to change the way that you feel about yourself in just a few days. But I hope that you are inspired to think about your appearance and life in a way that you would want your own child to think about his or her own situation.
If you have any thoughts on this topic that might be helpful to others, please post your thoughts in the comments section that follows. Thank you.
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